At Work

What Is a Biblical Response to Stress?

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My chest felt tight and I couldn’t catch my breath. I alternated between deep, unfulfilling breaths and yawning uncontrollably. For someone in good physical health who exercises regularly, this was out of character. Then it dawned on me.

I was stressed.

Trying to keep a dozen plates spinning in my personal and professional life, I couldn’t seem to keep up. My mind never stopped reeling with my never-ending to-do list, and I just didn’t have enough time to get it all done.

Apparently, I’m not alone. According to these statistics, over 70 percent of Americans regularly experience physical or psychological symptoms caused by stress. Forty-eight percent say stress negatively affects their professional and personal lives. The top physical symptom reported was fatigue, and the top psychological symptom was irritability or anger. The number one cause of stress in the US? Work. So, the vast majority of us are stressed out, tired, irritable, and overworked.

How did we get here?

Stress is a fascinating aspect of human life. It’s both destructive and motivating. It can sneak up on us and linger for what seems like forever, even never going away for some. Stress affects some far more than others, and we all handle it differently. It doesn’t discriminate based on gender, age, geography, finances, or race. It permeates all aspects of life and affects our mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical health. It ignores the line between work and personal life.

Stress seems inevitable in some form or another. Why?

Why Do We Get Stressed?

We experience stress for countless reasons. Top causes include work, finance, health, relationships, poor nutrition, and media overload. Even considering work stress alone, half a dozen variables factor in, including salary, workload, growth opportunities, conflicting demands, lack of support, and control. With constant demands on our time, energy, and emotions, it feels impossible to turn “off.” Instantly accessible at any moment, we’re always on-call and in-demand. No wonder we’re stressed out.

Is technology to blame? Maybe in part, but technology is not the real root of stress. Sin is.

When we look at Genesis 3, we remember why life is hard. We sinned. Adam and Eve chose independence over dependence on God in the very beginning of the world, leaving all generations to wrestle with learning how to depend on God the way we were designed to. From the moment that we chose independence, God has been calling us back to him. Uncertainties in life are opportunities to depend on God the way he intended us to. It doesn’t mean they’re easy or that they turn out the way we want, but we do have the freedom to let go of our white-knuckled grip on control.

While the Bible doesn’t talk specifically about “stress”, it says plenty about anxiety and worry. Our stress, anxiety, and worry don’t come from God. Instead, scripture reminds us to hand over our anxiety to God.

Philippians 4:6-7:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Matthew 6:34:

Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

Proverbs 3:5-6:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.

Matthew 11:28-30:

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

A biblical response to stress is one that fosters dependence on God.

Coming from someone who sweats the small stuff, I know this is difficult.

The most stressful seasons in my life climax in a moment when I realize I can’t do it all. I am reminded of my human finiteness and fallibility. Instead of losing my breath in anxiety, I should be able to breathe a deep sigh of relief. I can’t do it all, but I don’t have to. I am not enough, but Christ is. If the Creator of the universe loves me enough to die and take away all my ugly sin, then he cares about the pressures of life that bear down on me daily.

Beginning to mediate the stress in our lives requires taking a good look at ourselves. If you count yourself in the 70 percent of stressed out, tired, irritable Americans, take a few minutes to ask yourself these questions:

  • What are the primary sources of my stress?
  • How often do I pray about the factors in my life causing me stress?
  • Do I trust God with my work, finances, health, relationships, and future?
  • What effects does my stress have on my loved ones?

Look for future posts where we will examine some practical, biblical responses to stress. In the meantime, consider turning over your stress to God in ways you have never tried before, even if just praying a simple prayer today.

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  • DeeDub

    Good word. Thanks for the scriptural reminders.

  • Very true and a good intro for stress/anxiety/depression caused by failure to trust God and/or desire to control one’s life. 🙂

    However, it’s worth noting the layman definitions for “depression” and “anxiety” are not the same as the medical definitions. (This distinction in definition between layman usage and professional jargon distinction is normal for any field.) Conflating them can have fatal results.

    And then even layman stress and anxiety can have biological or environmental factors. For example, if you’re trapped with a reviler or some other form of abuser, there are actual physiological effects. Allergies, vitamin D deficiency, trauma programming an inappropriate instinctual fight-or-flight reaction… All can trigger depression or anxiety that has nothing to do with a failure to lean on God.

    I’m not saying that those verses aren’t useful or good to share. I’m saying that those verses can be insufficient for folks with stress, depression, or anxiety caused by external factors—that a person can obey those verses, trusting God for provision and everything, and still feel anxious or depressed.

    I’m prone to severe vitamin D deficiency, myself, for a few reasons that are outside my control. I pray and lean on God all the time, but that doesn’t keep me from feeling overwhelmed by basic tasks when my vitamin D’s dropped. I have to supplement vitamin D (which is a hormone, fyi) in order to prevent that feeling. When I first went to the doctor and had my vitamin D checked, my vitamin D was lower than some of my doctors had ever seen.

    I share that as a case in point that sometimes, the doctor is warranted. In fact, failure to go to the doctor can cause more and worse health problems.

    I’m not saying your post is wrong. I’m pointing out (primarily for the sake of other readers) that you’re speaking to those who feel stressed due to their failure to trust God and/or desire to control life, and not precisely to those experiencing those emotions due to some external reason that needs professional treatment.

    • Elizabeth Moyer

      Hi Misti,

      Thanks for your additional, clarifying comments. I think you’re right to make a distinction in different contributing factors to stress and anxiety, and also to point out the difference in definitions. Stress is one of those things that we all experience to varying degrees, for different reasons, and with sometimes conflicting perspectives on how to handle it. I am certainly not an expert or professional who can speak authoritatively on the matter.

      To your point, we can be living in faithful obedience to God (albeit never perfectly) and still experience the effects of stress from circumstances (environmental or biological, for instance) that are outside of our control. Especially with a medical definition of stress in mind, stress doesn’t always mean we have strayed from God. I’m actually vitamin D deficient as well, so I understand where you are coming from!

      Anxiety, depression, stress – they are complex and unique for each individual. In any case, I think if we encounter them ourselves, we should pause to honestly evaluate why we are experiencing them, where they are coming from, and how our relationship with God is affected. Ultimately, the Lord is sovereign in any and every case and nothing is outside of his control. Peace that comes from him surpasses all understanding. That doesn’t excuse us from taking care of ourselves — mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually. Taking care of ourselves is a form of good stewardship; our bodies are temples.

      Thanks again for your contribution!

  • susan

    Thank you for this article. I especially like this paragraph:

    “The most stressful seasons in my life climax in a moment when I realize I can’t do it all. I am reminded of my human finiteness and fallibility. Instead of losing my breath in anxiety, I should be able to breathe a deep sigh of relief. I can’t do it all, but I don’t have to. I am not enough, but Christ is. If the Creator of the universe loves me enough to die and take away all my ugly sin, then he cares about the pressures of life that bear down on me daily.”

    This reminds me of Hannah in I Sam 1:10ff “Hannah was in deep anguish, crying bitterly as she prayed to the Lord…(15) But I am very discouraged, and I was pouring out my heart to the Lord. …(16) For I have been praying out of great anguish and sorrow…*(18) Then she went back and began to eat again, and she was no longer sad.”(NLT) Hannah had lots of stressors in her life that produced strong emotions of grief, anxiety, bitterness and despair. These climaxed in her running to the temple to pour her heart out to the Lord. God blessed this and answered her prayer and brought real change – physical, spiritual and emotional. What I love in this story is how God brought this change first as a result of the prayer itself and then the blessing of His answer. In the faith-driven act of prayer, I get God’s help, but more importantly, I get God Himself.

    A prayerful response to stress and anxiety is an area of my life that I’ve been working on for the last year and a half or so. It is such a blessing to see progress and a return to joyful, purposeful living, working, and ministry. One practical thing I’ve been doing is simply eliminating the words, “stress” “anxious” and “busy” from my vocabulary. I’ve found that when I’m using these words, they are usually just a way of excusing the sin of worry, lack of prayerfulness, or wrong priorities. Better to call it what it really is and repent.

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